§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that its purpose was to repeal the 18 Geo. II. e. 20, which required a property qualification for all persons acting as justices of the peace. The effect of that Act was to place the local jurisdiction of the rural districts of England and Wales exclusively in the hands of landed proprietors. In proposing its repeal he sought to divest the magisterial office of this exclusive and invidious character, and to give the Lord Chancellor and Lords Lieutenant of counties power to appoint any persons qualified by education, character, and social position for exercising the duties of that office with advantage to the public. Several of these property qualifications existed up to the reign of William IV., all being traceable to feudal times, when agriculture was the principal occupation of the people, and when the owners of land were the governing class. Formerly, for instance, no person was permitted, unless he were a landed proprietor, to keep game or to sit in Parliament. But those Acts, so contrary to the spirit of modern legislation, had one by one been abrogated. Those who had not given attention to the subject might suppose, indeed, that this particular qualification originated in the reign of George II., and was therefore comparatively modern; but it was really more than 400 years old, for an Act of 508 Henry VI. provided that no person should be qualified for the office of a justice of the peace who did not possess lands or tenements of the value of £20 a year; and the Act of 18 Geo. II. simply raised the qualification to £100, which may be supposed to represent the difference in the value of money between the two periods. Now he submitted that an Act passed at the time of the Wars of the Roses was not likely to be suited to the seventieth year of the nineteenth century, and that there was no reason why they should maintain, at the present time, a law which was merely a remnant of the feudal system. The Preamble of the Act of George II. recited that by many recent Acts of Parliament the power and authority of the justices of the peace had greatly increased; and this was one of his reasons for introducing this Bill, since not only had that power and authority increased, but the number of country gentlemen to undertake the duties had become quite insufficient. This was proved by the wholesale introduction of country clergymen into the commissions. Why, then, should not the office be thrown open, and the authorities be allowed to appoint persons whom the enormous increase of wealth and the spread of education had called into existence since the passing of this Act? Their Lordships' eldest sons were specially exempted from its operation; so that by necessary implication their younger sons, unless possessed of real property, were declared to be of too mean estate to sit on the Bench at petty sessions. Was it not absurd to exclude lawyers from serving on the county magistracy? Oke's Magisterial Synopsis, the vade mecum of county magistrates, contained 1,200 pages. Now, was it not absurd to expect such an amount of professional knowledge from unprofessional men, and to deprive them of the cooperation of those who had made the law their profession? The only qualification for the office of Lord Chief Justice of England was fitness, and that surely ought to be the sufficient and sole qualification of these inferior criminal Judges. By enabling lawyers to be qualified for the office of justice of the peace, we should only be reverting to the ancient law of the land; and even in the comparatively modern Act of Henry VI., there was a special clause empowering the Lord Chancellor to ap- 509 point any person learned in the law, although they might not have the necessary property qualification. Were we to be more exclusive than the Edwards? To pass from the learned to the unlearned professions—to one of which he belonged—he would ask why officers of the Army and Navy were to be excluded from acting as justices of the peace unless they had property qualification? They were accustomed to act judicially from their boyhood; and, personally, he was liable to be ordered on a court martial before he had attained the age of sixteen. His attention was first called to the subject by the inconvenience which he personally experienced when, as an acting magistrate for one of the petty sessional divisions of the county of Norfolk, he often found himself the only magistrate who answered a summons to attend a petty sessions. In that district there were two gentlemen, one a lieutenant general and the other a commander in the Navy, and although both were in the commission of the peace they were disqualified for rendering any assistance by the Act which he sought to repeal. Two distinguished ornaments of this House, both of whom had been Secretaries of State, had advocated the admission into that House of mercantile representatives; and, following them at a humble distance, he would say place mercantile representatives on the magisterial Bench in petty sessions. To show how this class viewed their exclusion from a participation in labours that ought to be common to all, he held in his hand a letter in which it was stated that in the district in which the writer lived this Bill was hailed with great satisfaction, because it had long been felt a great hardship that merchants and others, who invested a large amount of capital in giving employment to thousands, could not take part in the administration of justice; while a clergyman of a small parish, the tithes of which were worth £100 a year, was qualified to do so. The Act of George II. produced great dissatisfaction in the districts where game abounds, and especially where it was in very few hands. Game was the exclusive property of landed proprietors; and the Act, in effect, declared that they were to be the sole Judges in the rural districts of offences against the Game Laws. The feeling was general that the landlord was more 510 or less an interested person; and the feeling was very strong in Scotland, as was shown by the fact that two Bills before the other House, although materially different from each other, were at one in regard to taking the administration of the Game Laws out of the hands of the county justices. He (the Earl of Albemarle) did not go so far; but he asked that other classes besides landowners should be allowed to take part in the administration of them. For a similar reason the system was very unpopular in Wales. The rivers of Wales belonged to landed proprietors, who were justices of the peace, and justices of the peace were ex officio members of the Boards of Conservators; so that as conservators these gentlemen originated prosecutions, and as justices of the peace they adjudicated upon them. A case had come before the Court of Queen's Bench in which a millowner was convicted by the magistrates for an offence against the Salmon Fisheries Act. He obtained a writ of certiorari on the ground that the convicting magistrates were interested persons. The case was argued before the Lord Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Blackburn, and Mr. Justice Mellor. They were unanimously of opinion that the magistrates were interested, and that substantially they were the prosecutors; and the conviction was quashed. This would probably not have happened if the millowners had been represented on the Bench. The state of feeling created by this state of things was evidenced by a statement in a sporting journal—Land and Water—that the fishermen of a certain district, considering themselves persecuted by a justice of the peace, revenged themselves when he was ill by holding a meeting to pray that he might die.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Albemarle.)
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
said, he felt bound to protest against the Bill, and against the reasons adduced for bringing it forward. He had listened in vain for some substantial reason and argument for altering the law, and had heard none except that it had existed for four centuries. But there were many laws far older than that which their Lordships would be unwilling to abolish for no better reasons. He protested against the position in which the proposed change would place any noble 511 and learned Lord who sat upon the Woolsack—not to mention the Lords Lieutenant of counties. For himself, if this Act were repealed it would be a puzzle to him to know whom he should recommend to Her Majesty for the honour of being placed in the commission of the peace. The noble Earl said that the present magistrates were unfit to do discharge their duties.
THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
said, that what he said was that they were insufficient in number to discharge their duties.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
said, the noble Earl had, as he had referred to a copy of Oke's Magisterial Synopsis containing something like 1,200 pages, asked their Lordships if they had read the work. Did the noble Earl think that Lords Lieutenant should pass an examination like candidates for the Army and Navy or for the Civil Service, and that the routine of examination should comprise questions on this book? With regard to what the noble Earl had said about officers of the Army and Navy, those officers were for the most part engaged in serving their country elsewhere; but the noble Earl's argument would not apply, because in the different Benches of magistrates in this country many retired officers of both services were to be found. Again, the noble Earl had said that magistrates ought not, in counties where there was game, to deal with game cases, because they were interested parties.
THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
said, he had carefully avoided insinuating that justice in such cases was not administered. He had simply stated that such was the impression which prevailed in many quarters.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
said, that unless it was urged that in these cases justice was not administered, the argument fell to the ground—if it was administered properly it did not matter whether the magistrates were interested parties or not. He believed there was no difficulty where magistrates were required in getting fit and proper persons to perform the duties. Under those circumstances, he would ask their Lordships to read the Bill a second time that day three months.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out "now," and insert "this day three months."—(The Duke of Richmond.)512
§ LORD PORTMAN
observed that his noble Friend (the Earl of Albemarle) in advocating the abolition of the existing qualification for magistrates, appeared to forget that some qualification was necessary, because it was by the magistrates that the county finances were administered. While these finances were administered by the magistrates qualified by estate, no one could say that they were not administered by the rate-payers of the county, because almost all the magistrates, under their qualification, were rate-payers. The magistrates were soon to be assisted in their financial administration by financial Boards, and if they took away the qualification of the magistrates, how could they ask for a qualification on the part of the elected members of those Boards? The magistrates ought to have such a qualification as would enable them for the sake of their own interests to take care that not 1s. of the rate-payers' money was wasted. None of the arguments employed in favour of the establishment of county financial Boards went the length of saying that a single shilling was wasted or misspent under the existing system. The Bill was inopportune, because it was introduced at the very time when a Bill relating to the administration of county finances was engaging the attention of the House of Commons. In Scotland there was no qualification required, except a negative prohibition of some persons; so that his noble Friend's argument with reference to the Game Laws had certainly no application there. His noble Friend had discovered that this qualification had existed since the Wars of the Roses, but he (Lord Portman) certainly believed that if the system was really attended with any injustice or inconvenience, his noble Friend would not have been the first person to propose its repeal. His experience as a Lord Lieutenant enabled him to state that the qualification was a great safeguard against appointments of men who were casual residents in a county and desired to act as justices of the peace because they had no occupations, and these became Guardians of the Poor as well as magistrates, and, having no permanent interest in the union, would not be acceptable to the elected guardians nor to the rate-payers, but would be disposed to interefere in the expenditure of the rates of those whose tenure was more 513 permanent. He trusted that his noble Friend would withdraw his Bill, and not put the House to the trouble of a division.
THE EARL OF ALBEMARLE
said, he was far from being convinced by the arguments to which he had listened. He did not, however, desire to give their Lordships unnecessary trouble, and would therefore for the present withdraw the Bill—though he hoped at some future time again to introduce it, and to fortify its claim to their Lordships' attention by stronger arguments.
§ Then the said Amendment, original Motion, and Bill (by leave of the House), withdrawn.